Kent looks up, laughs a short, nervous sort of laugh and looks away. “Is this crazy?” he says. “Are we crazy?”
We’re both silent a minute, the wind whistling harder than before.
“I don’t know,” I finally say.
Kent pounds a fist against his leg. Exhales through his nose. “You know, I never said this to you. Before.” He looks up, but doesn’t look at me. “That night. I never said it, but I wanted you to know that it meant a lot to me. What you said.”
I squint into the distance.
It’s an impossible thing to do, really, to apologize for attempting to kill someone. Even so, I tried. I told him I understood him then. His pain. His anger. His actions. I told him that he’d survived the upbringing of our father to become a much better person than I’d ever be.
“I meant it,” I say to him.
Kent now taps his closed fist against his mouth. Clears his throat. “I’m sorry, too, you know.” His voice is hoarse. “Things got so screwed up. Everything. It’s such a mess.”
“Yes,” I say. “It is.”
“So what do we do now?” He finally turns to look at me, but I’m still not ready to meet his eyes. “How—how do we fix this? Can we even fix this? Is it too far gone?”
I run a hand over my newly shorn hair. “I don’t know,” I say, too quietly. “But I’d like to fix it.”
Kent nods several times beside me. “I’m not ready to tell James yet.”
I falter, surprised. “Oh.”
“Not because of you,” he says quickly. “It’s not you I’m worried about. I just—explaining you means explaining something so much bigger. And I don’t know how to tell him his dad was a monster. Not yet. I really thought he’d never have to know.”
At this, I look up. “James doesn’t know? Anything?”
Kent shakes his head. “He was so little when our mom died, and I always managed to keep him out of sight when our dad came around. He thinks our parents died in a plane crash.”
“Impressive,” I hear myself say. “That was very generous of you.”
I hear Kent’s voice crack when he next speaks. “God, why am I so messed up over him? Why do I care?”
“I don’t know,” I say, shaking my head. “I’m having the same problem.”
Kent drops his head in his hands. “He really screwed us up, man.”
“Yes. He did.”
I hear Kent sniff twice, two sharp attempts at keeping his emotions in check, and even so, I envy him his ability to be this open with his feelings. I pull a handkerchief from the inside pocket of my jacket and hand it to him.
“Thanks,” he says tightly.
“So, um—what’s up with your hair?”
I’m so caught off guard by the question I almost flinch. I actually consider telling Kent the whole story, but I’m worried he’ll ask me why I’d ever let Kenji touch my hair, and then I’d have to explain Juliette’s many, many requests that I befriend the idiot. And I don’t think she’s a safe topic for us yet. So instead I say, “A little mishap.”
Kent raises his eyebrows. Laughs. “Uh-huh.”
I glance in his direction, surprised.
He says, “It’s okay, you know.”
Kent is sitting up straighter now, staring into the sunlight. I’m beginning to see shades of my father in his face. Shades of myself. “You and Juliette,” he says.
He glances at me. “Really. It’s okay.”
I can’t help it when I say, stunned, “I’m not sure it would’ve been okay with me, had our roles been reversed.”
Kent smiles, but it looks sad. “I was a real dick to her at the end,” he says. “So I guess I got what I deserved. But it wasn’t actually about her, you know? All of that. It wasn’t about her.” He looks up at me out of the corner of his eye. “I’d been drowning for a while, actually. I was just really unhappy, and really stressed, and then”—he shrugs, turns away—“honestly, finding out you were my brother nearly killed me.”
I blink. Surprised once more.
“Yeah.” He laughs, shaking his head. “I know it seems weird now, but at the time I just—I don’t know, man, I thought you were a sociopath. I was so worried you’d figure out we were related and then, I mean—I don’t know, I thought you’d try to murder me or something.”
He hesitates. Looks at me.
It’s only then that I realize—surprised, yet again—that he wants me to deny this. To say it wasn’t so.
But I can understand his concern. So I say, “Well. I did try to kill you once, didn’t I?”
Kent’s eyes go wide. “It’s too soon for that, man. That shit is still not funny.”
I look away as I say, “I wasn’t making a joke.”
I can feel Kent looking at me, studying me, trying, I assume, to make some sense of me or my words. Perhaps both. But it’s hard to know what he’s thinking. It’s frustrating to have a supernatural ability that allows me to know everyone’s emotions, except for his. It makes me feel off-kilter around him. Like I’ve lost my eyesight.
Finally, Kent sighs.
I seem to have passed a test.
“Anyway,” he says, but he sounds a bit uncertain now, “I was pretty sure you would come after me. And all I could think was that if I died, James would die. I’m his whole world, you know? You kill me, you kill him.” He looks into his hands. “I stopped sleeping at night. Stopped eating. I was losing my mind. I couldn’t handle it, any of it—and you were, like, living with us? And then everything with Juliette—I just—I don’t know.” He sighs, long and loud. Shaky. “I was an asshole. I took everything out on her. Blamed her for everything. For walking away from what I thought was one of the few sure things in my life. It’s my own fault, really. My own baggage. I’ve still got a lot of shit to work out,” he says finally. “I’ve got issues with people leaving me behind.”
For a moment, I’m rendered speechless.
I’d never thought of Kent as capable of complex thought. My ability to sense emotions and his ability to extinguish preternatural gifts has made for a strange pairing—I’d always been forced to conclude that he was devoid of all thought and feeling. It turns out he’s quite a bit more emotionally adept than I’d expected. Vocal, too.
But it’s strange to see someone with my shared DNA speak so freely. To admit aloud his fears and shortcomings. It’s too raw, like looking directly at the sun. I have to look away.
Ultimately, I say only, “I understand.”
Kent clears his throat.
“So. Yeah,” he says. “I guess I just wanted to say that Juliette was right. In the end, she and I grew apart. All of this”—he makes a gesture between us—“made me realize a lot of things. And she was right. I’ve always been so desperate for something, some kind of love, or affection, or something. I don’t know,” he says, shaking his head. “I guess I wanted to believe she and I had something we didn’t. I was in a different place then. Hell, I was a different person. But I know my priorities now.”
I look at him then, a question in my eyes.
“My family,” he says, meeting my gaze. “That’s all I care about now.”
We’re making our way slowly back to base.
I’m in no hurry to find Warner only to have what will probably be a difficult, stressful conversation, so I take my time. I pick my way through the detritus of war, winding through the gray wreckage of the compounds as we leave behind unregulated territory and the smudged remnants of what used to be. I’m always sorry when our walk is nearly at an end; I feel great nostalgia for the cookie-cutter homes, the picket fences, the small, boarded-up shops and old, abandoned banks and buildings that make up the streets of unregulated turf. I’d like to find a way to bring it all back again.